Archive for May 12th, 2010

How the Finns got it so right

May 12, 2010

This article from yesterday’s Irish Times is a must-read for all those with an interest in school education. The following summary is from the end of the article:

  • The Finns have a high regard for and confidence in their schooling system and a high opinion of schooling.
  • All teachers must hold a masters degree; most train for at least five-and-a-half years.
  • Status of teachers is high and teaching is one of the most coveted and popular professions.
  • 400 local councils or municipalities administer schools. Schools are free to tailor education to local needs.
  • Government only sets overall objectives.
  • Principal has key role in driving education, responsible for the school’s entire operation and pupil assessment and budget.
  • Principals evaluate teacher performance focusing on mastery of the profession, pupil performance and ability to co-operate.
  • No national evaluation system for teacher work, no external inspection system and no focus on league tables.
  • Compulsory nine-year basic schooling is free for all aged 7-16 years.
  • Schools have a statutory obligation to maintain contact with homes.
  • Although it is interesting to read such a list, and note the points of contrast with schooling elsewhere, I wonder whether it’s like listing the ingredients of a cake without having the recipe or the baking expertise. What we are talking about here is a whole culture (the finished cake). The article points to two core ingredients: first, quality teacher training; and second, a high regard for the teaching profession. These are then reflected in government policy. Seppo Tella, professor of language education (and teaching matters) at the University of Helsinki, indicates another cultural aspect: ‘What visiting educators from over 50 countries have found in Finland is simple: well trained teachers and responsible children’. Although there is mention elsewhere of teachers and pupils as ‘equal partners’ on first-name terms, this passing reference to the attitude of the children is, I believe, highly significant, because it is an indicator of the cultural matrix to which such an attitude inextricably belongs.